NYC terror trial turns on linguistics

The latest witness in the high-profile case of a Yemeni sheikh being heard in a Brooklyn federal courtroom was a New York Univeristy linguist. The scholar, Bernard Haykel, was called in to translate the word "jihad," which is repeatedly referenced in secretly-recorded tapes of the sheikh, Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad, who is charged with material support to al-Qaeda and Hamas. To the dismay of federal prosecutors, Haykel said jihad can mean "Anything that basically furthers the cause of Islam and is understood to be doing good"—not necessarily armed struggle. (NYT, Feb. 25)

Adding to the lurid nature of the case, it prominently features testimony by Mohamed Alanssi, the FBI informant who set himself on fire in front of the White House in November in an apparent failed suicide attempt. In January 2003, Alanssi lured Sheik Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad and his assistant and co-defendant, Mohammed Mohsen Yahya Zayed, to Germany, where he introduced them to another FBI informant who claimed to have $2.5 million in donations for al-Qaeda and Hamas. Alanssi said he set himself ablaze to "put the world on notice" after the FBI coughed up only $100,000 of a promised $5 million for his services. Alanssi testified that al-Moayad had bragged of being Osama bin Laden’s spiritual adviser and giving the al-Qaeda leader $20 million prior to 2001. (NY Post, Feb. 23)